“Mr White Sox” deserved far better from the game he loved

Minnie Minoso, left, and owner Bill Veeck of the Chicago White Sox enjoy a laugh in the Comiskey Park dugout in 1957. (Photo by Mark Rucker/Transcendental Graphics, Getty Images)
Minnie Minoso, left, and owner Bill Veeck of the Chicago White Sox enjoy a laugh in the Comiskey Park dugout in 1957. (Photo by Mark Rucker/Transcendental Graphics, Getty Images) /

Minnie Miñoso loved the game of baseball. Baseball took far too long to return the favor. On December 5th, the Chicago White Sox legend was announced as one of four players selected for induction to the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown by the Golden Days Era Committee.

He received 14 votes from the 16 member committee, becoming the first Black Cuban player in MLB history to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. It has been a long time coming.

Back in 2014, Minnie Miñoso and his family waited eagerly for the phone to ring. They were expecting a call. After 20 years of playing professional baseball the man nicknamed ‘The Cuban Comet’ had compiled a Hall of Fame resume.

A lifetime .299 batting average, 2110 hits, 195 home runs, 13 All-Star appearances, 216 stolen bases, and three Gold Glove awards to be exact. His impact on the game extended far beyond his numbers in the box score.

Miñoso was idolized by thousands and inspired a generation of Cuban ballplayers. He broke the Chicago White Sox color barrier in 1951, enduring years of being pelted with racial abuse. He served as a pioneer for Latino players in the big leagues and set up a pipeline for Cuban players in the city of Chicago.

Lots of players, such as All-Star first baseman Jose Abreu, point to Miñoso as their mentor. Miñoso’s most impressive quality was his character. He was a genuinely good guy. However, the baseball writers ignored him when he was on the ballot in 1969, five years after his first retirement in 1964.

He returned to baseball in 1976 and 1980 for a brief cameo, becoming the first player in baseball history to play in five different decades. After that, he did not retain Hall of Fame eligibility until the mid-1980s. Miñoso’s name floated around on the ballot through 1999. The highest vote total he ever received was 21.1 percent in 1988, falling well short of the 75 percent threshold needed for election.

White Sox legend Minnie Minoso was well deserving of the MLB Hall of Fame.

He became a member of the Chicagoland Sports Hall of Fame in 1994, the Mexican Professional Baseball Hall of Fame in 1996, the Hispanic Heritage Baseball Museum Hall of Fame on August 11, 2002, and the Cuban Baseball Hall of Fame in 2014.

His number 9 also overlooks Guaranteed Rate Field alongside the other White Sox legends that have their numbers retired. The White Sox even honored him with a statue of himself in 2004. For some reason, the Cooperstown Hall of Fame eluded him.

While it was frustrating for Miñoso and his fans, there were still other opportunities for later committees to make things right. They did not treat him much better. Miñoso was passed over in a broad vote on Negro Leaguers because his statistics in Major League Baseball were disregarded. Still, other chances for him to be voted in arose. Plenty of players get inducted later in life.

Miñoso would attend conventions and baseball card shows and see his former colleagues that he had once played against scribbled HOF next to their signatures. It seemed like it was only a matter of time for him. A call from the Hall of Fame seemed imminent. The call never came.

Despite years of advocacy from fans, colleagues, historians, and ballplayers past and present, he could never muster up enough votes. When he was snubbed once again in 2014, it was clear that the years of rejection had taken their toll. The usually upbeat and positive-minded Miñoso lashed out in frustration.

In an ESPN interview with Christina Kahrl published Feb. 26, 2015, Miñoso said:

"“Truly, I’m hurt. You know why? Because I’ve seen so many guys — and all of my respect is for them — get inducted, but my records are better. And I played more years. That’s what’s breaking my heart. I go to these card shows, and most guys there are Hall of Famers. Some of them got in later, but what difference should there be?This year, nobody was inducted [by the Golden Era Committee]? And you’re really telling me that nobody had the quality to be? C’mon. It’s not just me. Tony Oliva, Billy Pierce, Luis Tiant … [The committee] should have considered Mike Cuellar, Richie Allen. Are you telling me these guys will never get in? I don’t know what to say. […]Don’t tell me that maybe I’ll get in after I pass away. I don’t want it to happen after I pass. I want it while I’m here because I want to enjoy it.”"

Miñoso was found dead in his car three days after the interview was released. He never got to enjoy being bestowed the highest honor in sports.

Miñoso got his start in professional baseball in the United States in 1946. He played for the New York Cubans of the Negro Leagues for three years, making an appearance in their All-Star Game in his final two.

He then received his first major league contract from the Cleveland Indians in 1949. Despite being good enough to play in the Major Leagues, Indians owner Bill Veeck thought that the Indians roster was already stacked with talent, so Miñoso spent most of his time dominating the Pacific Coast League with their minor league affiliate. After playing just 17 games with the major league club, he was traded to the Chicago White Sox for pennies on the dollar.

On May 1st, 1951, Miñoso put on a White Sox uniform for the first time and trotted out to his position at third base in front of the Comiskey Park faithful. The seal had finally been broken. After 50 years, the organization finally had their first person of color donning their uniform. In his first at-bat, he launched a home run off Yankees pitcher Vic Raschi.

The home run was the kickstart to his first full season in the show. Miñoso led the league in triples, finishing fourth in the MVP voting and second in the Rookie of the Year voting. However, he was also drilled with 16 pitches, which led the league. He would lead baseball in hit by pitches nine times. While Miñoso had a tendency to crowd the plate, the bean balls were no coincidence. Race played a factor.

"“My first year in big league in 1951, one team — I no tell who — always call me names,” he once told The New York World-Telegram and Sun, which quoted him in broken English. They used pelted him with racial slurs and foul language, Miñoso said, adding: “I think they try make me afraid.”"

Racism in baseball was the norm back then. Minoso had to live in segregated hotels and put up with jeers from fans and opposing teams across America. Minoso remained unphased.

He played 12 seasons with the White Sox over five separate stints. During that time he made seven All-Star teams and took home the Gold Glove Award for being the best fielder at his position on three separate occasions. Minoso finished in the top five in the MVP voting back-to-back season in 1953 and 1954.

Like a fine wine, he seemed to get better with age. The Cuban Comet led the league in steals in 1952 and 1953. He batted over .300 eight times and led the league with 184 hits in 1960. He also led the league in triples for the second and third time in 1954 and 1956. On top of that, he scored 100 plus runs for the White Sox four times and recorded 100-plus RBIs four times. He eventually earned another nickname, “Mr. White Sox”.

In 1955 the White Sox had an exhibition game in a segregated Memphis Tennessee. Minoso saw a little boy with crutches in the stands wearing a White Sox cap and t-shirt. The boy was only five years old and stricken with polio.

Miñoso asked one of his teammates if he would give a ball to the young fan. He didn’t feel comfortable handing a baseball to a white boy because it was the first integrated game in Memphis and he didn’t want to ruffle any feathers.

The boy was so excited he got the ball that he went and showed his father. They went down to thank the player and he responded ‘don’t thank me. Thank that player over there, Number 9…Minnie Miñoso’.

That boy was Congressman Steve Cohen and it was an experience he would remember for the rest of his life.  On December 8th he addressed the House of Representatives to celebrate his childhood hero. 

"“That lucky moment for me gave me a hero and an angel who stayed with me all my life,” Cohen said."

Cohen is one of the countless people Minoso impacted throughout his life. Minoso served as a mentor for White Sox players long after he retired. He tried to uphold the team’s tradition as a welcoming destination for Cubans.

"“To me, Minnie is a legend.” 2005 World Series champion Jose Contreras told MLB.com via a translator.. Contreas came to Majoe League Baseball in 2003 from Cuba. “He was one of the reasons I started playing baseball when I was a kid. I wanted to be like him. He was one of our best representatives, our Jackie Robinson.”"

Minoso loved the game of baseball. His love of the game had a tendency to rub off on other people. When he was a child he quit school to work on the cane fields and play baseball. One year his employer, Lonja plantation, failed to field a youth baseball team. So Minoso took it upon himself to organize one.

He recruited players, dug up some old equipment, and managed the team. He took his job as a manager seriously. He expected everyone to know the signs he came up with and if they missed one he would fine them 50 centavos.

For Minoso baseball was more than a game. It was part of who he was and he wanted to share his love of the game with as many people as he could.

"“I can’t even count the number of times that he and I sat in the conference room adjacent to my office, just talking baseball and talking about life and the joy that he had for this game and why he chose to pass up more lucrative opportunities to come play for the New York Cubans,” Bob Kendrick, president of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, told US Club News in an interview back in November. “He wanted to chase the American dream, and he laid the foundations to so many others because they knew they would have an opportunity to play this game.”"

In 2020, the MLB finally recognized the Negro Leagues as equal to the American and National Leagues. That meant all of their official record books could be taken into consideration.

While his Major League statistics are already Hall of Fame-caliber, the extra three years only helped strengthen his case. He batted .356 and .344 in 1947 and 1948. The context of him being stuck in the Minor Leagues for a season in 1950 when he should have been in the Major Leagues accumulating more numbers is another added factor.

In 2021, the Committee finally got it right. It took far too long but Minoso was finally named a Hall of Famer. When the news was announced, his family went to celebrate at Sluggers Bar in Wrigleyville.

During Minoso’s playing days, the bar served as his home away from home. He came around so much they even gave him access to the kitchen. Minnie loved to cook so much, he would walk into Sluggers, go straight to the kitchen and cook for everybody who came by.

"“It was bittersweet and exciting at the same time,” Sharon Minoso told NBC Sports Chicago of the honor for her late husband. “I think he would have been surprised and honored. Minnie was very humble when it came to something like this. Honestly, I know Minnie would have cried. He was a sentimental guy and very humble and never felt he deserved special recognition, as Charlie and I did, it was tears of joy.”"

Minnie may not have been there to enjoy it but his name will forever be enshrined in the mecca of baseball. Taking his rightful place alongside the game’s all-time greats.

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